No. 17: Chris Driedger (Reader rank: 16, last year: 21)
He’s certainly not out of potential, simply because Andrew Hammond and Scott Darling are evidence that goalies can become good out of nowhere. However, I’d say he is running out of time to prove himself with the Senators. If he doesn’t have a good season in Belleville, then I’m not going to have much faith in him as a prospect.
I never believed he was a top prospect anyway, and he certainly hasn’t ranked as one throughout his young career. He has always been ranked in the 8-15 range amongst Senators prospects, as his track record suggests he would be more of a backup goalie rather than a starter. And much like Alex Formenton and his lower ceiling, there’s nothing wrong with that.
While it’s important for him to impress this season, it’s not unheard of for backup goalies to get their break in their mid-20’s, so I doubt he’ll be out of a contract in 2018-19 even if he doesn’t have a great season.
If you’re unfamiliar with Driedger’s background, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster.
He was drafted 76th overall in 2012 after posting an .896 SV% with the Calgary Hitmen, which is nothing to write home about. But in his final two seasons in the WHL, he had SV%’s of .915 and .918, respectively, with the .918 mark ranking fourth amongst starters in the league. After proving his superiority in junior, there was some hype surrounding his name.
The following season (2014-15), Driedger even appeared in the NHL due to unforeseen circumstances. After Craig Anderson had gotten hurt again and Robin Lehner got wiped out by Clarke MacArthur, the 2014-15 season appeared to be over. Hammond had to shoulder the load, although Dreidger had to get called up because there was nobody else.
He did appear in one game and unsurprisingly had a 1.000 SV%. Although it must have been a thrill for him to experience what the NHL is like for a few months and get paid an NHL salary, his 40 games in the ECHL were forgettable. He played on a bad Evansville Icemen team, but an .885 SV% is still horrific.
In each of the last two seasons he has again appeared in one NHL game, but most of his time was spent in Binghamton. After a season with a .912 SV% in 2015-16, there was some hope that this could be the beginning of an upward trend. However, he regressed back to .900 this past season.
It should be noted that the B-Sens had some terrible teams recently, so perhaps SV% should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, you’d like to see his numbers be a bit better.
Prospect progression is not linear, so it would be foolish to think that Driedger will have to work his way up for a few more years. Instead, it’s plausible that he takes his game to another level in the 2017-18 campaign and by the following season he is a capable NHL backup. But with goalies it is so hard to project, and the outlook for him is not the brightest.
The biggest hurdle for him is the fact that he is essentially fighting against Marcus Hogberg to prove to Ottawa that he is the better goalie. Pierre Dorion has said that Danny Taylor will be in the AHL to begin the year, meaning one of Hogberg and Driedger will be in the ECHL. Being sent down another level wouldn’t be the end of his career or anything, but it would mean that he is essentially fifth (or even sixth depending on Hammond’s status) on the depth chart.
I can’t envision Driedger getting more than about 25-30 starts in the AHL this year, and he has to make the most of them. Hogberg is already a better rated prospect, and has more of a track record.
Driedger doesn’t necessarily have to play better than Hogberg, he just needs to show that he can be someone to fill in at the NHL level. Right now I’m not sure he can do that, but I’m willing to see what he can do this year with some added pressure. I’d love to be proven wrong because the Senators need some young goaltending.